Eastern Conference semifinal, second leg
COLUMBUS vs. REAL SALT LAKE (RSL leads, 1-0); 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2 ESPN Deportes
If class prevails, the Crew should overturn the one-goal disadvantage and advance. But the defending champion hasn't scored more than one goal in its past seven games (all competitions), since beating the Galaxy, 2-0, at home Sept. 26. It has won by at least two goals six times this season.
RSL has more than a puncher's chance despite its horrible 2-11-2 road mark. It has shut out the Galaxy (2-0) and Kansas City (1-0) for its two away victories, and also played a 0-0 tie at D.C. United.
Of the midfielders expected to play, Kyle Beckerman is the most active and best two-way performer: if he's cutting off passes and playing early balls to his attackers, the Crew may not get enough chances, even with a rested - and a bit ticked off - Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the team's top scorer with 12 goals - buzzing about. Forward Steven Lenhart threatened occasionally in the first leg even with limited service, and though Alejandro Moreno is more experienced, he's scored only one goal in 19 postseason matches. (However, he's also logged six assists, and won three MLS titles with three different teams.)
While Crew centerbacks Chad Marshall and Eric Brunner must certainly be wary of balls played over their heads or between them for Robbie Findley and Yura Movsisyan to turn into goals, the critical dynamics will play out in midfield.
In the first leg, Robbie Rogers did a fair share of defensive work on the left side; he'll be pushed forward in search of chances this time around, leaving center mids Danny O'Rourke (or Adam Moffat) and Brian Carroll to limit the service of Javier Morales, Andy Williams and Beckerman.
Will the pivotal moment be what Schelotto or Williams can produce on a set play?
The outside backs will also bear watching. Frankie Hedjuk's blitzkrieg runs from behind midfielder Eddie Gaven can produce with determination and speed what precision and patience may not. Or will Crew left back Gino Padula's passes to Rogers and Schelotto and unhinge RSL's back line, whose cornermen Chris Wingert and Tony Beltran, as well as goalie Nick Rimando, will be severely tested?
This game might go to the team that scores first; either RSL will have a two-goal edge, or the Crew would be even and riding the momentum. If somebody scores, that is.
Prediction: Crew 3, RSL 1 (agg: 3-2).
RIDGE MAHONEY'S PLAYOFF PREDICTION RECORD SO FAR: 2-2.